Beijing gives green light for Hong Kong leg of Ant’s $30bn IPO

Ant Group has received approval from Chinese regulators to list its shares in Hong Kong, said three people with direct knowledge of the matter, clearing one of the last hurdles to the group’s $30bn initial public offering.

The Chinese payments group controlled by billionaire Jack Ma is planning a dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong, in what could be the world’s biggest IPO.

The three people said Ant had been given clearance by the China Securities Regulatory Commission on Monday to proceed with the Hong Kong leg of the IPO. However, the company still needs approval from the Hong Kong stock exchange’s listing committee. Two of those people said the committee could hear Ant’s application later on Monday or on Tuesday.

The CSRC and Ant did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the status of the Chinese company’s IPO. Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, the city’s bourse operator, declined to comment.

Shares in Ant, which some analysts have valued at as much as $318bn, could price ahead of the US presidential election on November 3, according to one of the people.

Bankers working with the company are eager for the IPO to not clash with the vote, which they view as a potential source of market uncertainty. “During the election you have a lot of volatility,” one banker said.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange approved the listing of Ant shares on its technology-focused Star market last month.

The size of the Chinese group’s IPO is expected to exceed that of Saudi Aramco’s in 2019, which raised more than $25bn.

Investors have been eager to secure shares in Ant, which has 711m monthly users, rapidly growing profits and funnelled about one-tenth of all credit to Chinese consumers in the past year — more than any bank.

The approval from Chinese regulators could help reassure some concerns after Ant faced scrutiny over its decision to offer retail traders access to its share sale through an exclusive arrangement on its Alipay mobile payments app.

In addition to the normal retail tranche set to be offered to investors in Shanghai as part of the IPO, Ant allowed five domestic fund managers to buy up shares that they then offered to retail traders as “strategic allocation funds”. Alipay promoted the funds heavily ahead of China’s recent national holiday.

Reuters reported last week that regulators in China had delayed the approval of the listing in Hong Kong while they scrutinised Alipay’s arrangement with the funds.

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